In order to effectively respond to any oil that might arrive on Florida's beaches as a result of the spill in the Gulf, one must take into account the different regulations governing the response to crises such at this on the local, state, and federal level. As the city currently does not have an oil spill response plan, in this case it is helpful to look at the state and federal level first, in order to determine the most effective role for local authorities to play in the context of these larger efforts. Examining the existing plans and regulations will answer any possible questions regarding who is responsible for the cleanup, as well as any additional costs related to the effects of the spill such as lost business revenue. Furthermore, this study will reveal the best ways in which the city can implement different policies, procedures, and legal options in order to sure that its residents and businesses suffer as little as possible from any potential oil that may come ashore.
Before getting into the specifics of this particular scenario, it is helpful to first discuss the existing regulations and response plans regarding oil spills on both the state and federal level, due to the fact the city's response will ideally be part of a much larger effort, necessitating cooperation and understanding at every level of interaction. The scope of the disaster is simply too large for any one city or state to effectively deal with, but with proper planning and an understanding of the existing plans and regulations, the city will be able to ensure that it is using its resources to most effectively protect its residents, businesses, and beaches. As the overall response to the spill is being handled on the federal level, it is best to start with the federal regulations which dictate who is responsible, both materially and financially, for the clean-up of any potential oil and the negative effects it might have on the local economy.
At the federal level, the response to any oil spill is headed up by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) via the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan. "More commonly called the National Contingency Plan or NCP," the plan "is the federal government's blueprint for responding to both oil spills and hazardous substance releases" and comes into effect with the National Response Team, which is responsible for "planning and coordinating responses to major discharges of oil or hazardous waste, providing guidance to Regional Response Teams, coordinating a national program of preparedness planning and response, and facilitating research to improve response activities" (EPA, "National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan Overview," 2011). The National Response Team is headed by the EPA and consists of all those federal agencies participating in the spill response, and it represents the top of the overall response of which the city itself will be a part, due to the fact that National Contingency Plan authorizes the creation of regional response teams, which are made up of "representatives of each federal agency that is a member of the NRT, as well as state and local government representatives, and also an incident-specific team made up of members of the standing team that is activated for a response," and are responsible for "coordinating preparedness, planning, and response at the regional level" (EPA, National Oil and Hazardous Substances," 2011). Finally, the NCP further consists of federal On-Scene Coordinators, who are authorized "to direct all federal, state, and private response activities at the site of a discharge," or in this case, clean-up. Thus, while an On-Scene coordinator would likely be the portion of the federal spill response that the city will work closest with, it is worth knowing that anything the city undertakes will be happening as a part of this larger effort.
In addition to the federal response plan for an oil spill, the EPA also has preexisting regulations requiring private facilities "to develop and implement Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans [and] procedures, methods, and equipment requirements" able to effectively deal with "a worst-case discharge of oil" (EPA, "Oil Pollution Prevention Regulation Overview," 2011). The EPA is supposed to check with these response plans to ensure their viability, and whatever the private response, it should ostensibly fall under the authority of the National Response Team and any On-Site Coordinators. In the case of the current spill, of the variety of companies ultimately responsible for the explosion and spill in the Gulf, BP has taken the largest share of the responsibility in responding to the crisis, both in terms of publicly taking responsibility for the crisis and funding much of the response effort as a result of the larger requirements for companies to have response plans of their own.
Following earlier disasters, legislators and regulators ensured that the brunt of the financial cost would be carried by the private entities responsible, so BP is legally required to both fund clean-up efforts and reimburse those whose livelihoods have been effected (although only up to a certain dollar amount, and the claims process is reportedly lengthy, error-prone, and inefficient) (Wald, 2010, "Tax on Oil May Help Pay for Cleanup"). In addition to these financial requirements, which only hold a company accountable up to a limit of $75 million, "the federal government has a large rainy day fund on hand to help mitigate the expanding damage on the Gulf Coast, generated by a tax on oil for use in cases like the Deepwater Horizon spill" (Wald, 2010). The money is used not only to prepare for spills, but to pay for the effects of spills which exceed the mandated liability limit for corporations (although BP has said that it will continue to honor claims beyond the $75 million cap).
In addition to the federal and corporate response plans and regulations controlling them, the Department of Environmental Protection for the state of Florida is also especially focused on hazardous waste mitigation, due to its relatively high risk of hurricanes and oil spills. The Hazardous Waste Cleanup Section of the Department of Environmental Protection "responsible for the remediation of hazardous waste sites where enforcement has been unsuccessful or only partially successful" and coordinating with the EPA and National Response Team in their efforts to collect oil.
Thus, when considering the range of federal, corporate, and state level organization, one might forgiven for thinking that the city is already prepared for the effects of any potential oil, considering that these agencies and companies have ostensibly prepared not only for the necessary oil collection efforts but also for the money required to fund them and reimburse those whose health and finances are put in jeopardy by the loss of income. However, due to the almost inevitable amount of delay and mistakes that can occur when dealing with a bureaucracy of this magnitude (especially considering that a large portion of it consists of private entities with financial goals wholly inconsistent with the successful mitigation of this disaster), the city cannot in good conscience assume that the resources and money available via this bureaucracy will arrive in the necessary timeframe or in enough supply.
Thus, one of the first things the city can do to be prepared is have its lawyers examine the National Contingency Plan and other regulations and legislation in order to determine how soon and to what extent the city can sue both the EPA and BP in order to ensure residents are accorded their rights under the law. Although it may seem overly litigious to prepare this option immediately, the goal would ideally not be actual litigation, but rather using the city's clout to ensure that bureaucratic or corporate concerns do not trump the need for immediate assistance. Furthermore, a threatened lawsuit from the city would be far more effective in motivating the necessary actors than lawsuits from individuals, which unfortunately has become necessary in past disaster cases. In particular, the case of Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 demonstrated that lawsuits are one of the most effective ways of ensuring that the financial costs of a disaster are not born by those feeling the most damaging effects of it (Liszka, 2010). Furthermore, because the city has no where near the money or resources needed to catch and clean up any oil that might arrive, the best thing it can do is try its hardest to ensure that it is receiving the assistance due it with suitable speed, and aside from close consultation with any relevant On-Site coordinators and the Regional Response Teams, having lawsuits prepared is one of the foremost means of accomplishing this.
Because the majority of the heavy cleanup will be conducted by BP, its contractors, and the portions of the federal and state government, the next best thing the city can do is work with any corporate liaisons in an attempt to offer those put out of work by the oil, either due to maritime employment or tourism dollars, the opportunity to generate income…